What is self-regulation?

 

Self-regulation is often mentioned these days in mindfulness related contexts.

What does it mean?

For me, it means to go off auto-pilot, to intentionally do something different than our habitual response. These habitual responses are often rooted in wounding, trauma, identifications, and painful beliefs, and the outcome of these responses tend to reflect their origin. (Acting on pain and wounding tends to create more pain and wounding.)

How do we self-regulate?

We self-regulate by noticing what’s happening in us, by noticing any reactions, contractions, emotions and so on that come up. Then, by relating to it intentionally. Often with presence, kindness, love, patience, holding/noticing space, and so on. This helps the old habitual responses lose their steam, and it creates a new pattern. It’s the seed of a new habitual response.

Example #1 – hurt & left out. Say a feeling of hurt and being left out comes up. My habitual response may be to eat comfort food, watch a movie, talk with a friend, distract myself in any number of ways. In this case, none of these are terrible, but they also don’t help me shift how I relate to this hurt and feeling of being left out. These parts of me remain unloved, unfelt, unexamined.

When I instead meet them with presence, kindness, love, and curiosity, it not only shifts the habitual response (reducing the charge of the old response and creating a new), these parts of me receive what they really want which is presence, love, patience, and understanding.

Example #2 – TRE. Another example is self-regulation in TRE (Tension & Trauma Release Exercises). Here, the body’s natural trembling/releasing mechanism releases tension, which in turn may trigger old memories and traumas. Self-regulation again means presence, kindness, and curiosity. And this takes the form of noticing and allowing sensations and imaginations, doing TRE for quite short periods so less is released at a time and there is less chance of overwhelm (and re-traumatizing), and taking a break as soon as we notice discomfort and signs of overwhelm (stretch out the legs, walk around, drink some water, talk with someone, squeeze someone’s hand etc.).

Example #3 – anger. Another example is when I get frustrated, worked up, or angry. I notice. Recognize what’s happening. And may do any number of things to help self-regulate: Recognize that behind the anger and frustration is fear. Jump up and down and shake my arms and hands. Breathe deeply and consciously. Go for a walk. Amplify and release. (Amplify the anger and frustration for 10 seconds, release, let go, and breathe for 10 seconds, repeat a few times.) Identify and feel the physical sensations, setting imagination (mental images, words) aside for a while. Do EFT/TFT tapping. After I feel more present again, I can more easily see what the kind and sane response to the (previously triggering) situation is and do that – or do nothing if that seems more appropriate.

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Reminder: It’s not life threatening

 

It’s not life threatening. That can be a very helpful reminder when our system is on high alert, either from external or internal stimuli. External stimuli can be sounds, visuals, smell, taste, or the situation. Internal stimuli are images, words, and sensory input. And it’s really all the same, it’s all happening within my awareness as sensory input with associated images or words.

This is one way to help our system relax, relate differently to the stimuli, and over time reorganize and reorient towards a more consistently relaxed response to non-life threatening stimuli.

Emergency measures

 

When something – an emotion, physical or emotional pain, cravings and addictions – feels overwhelming and unbearable, what do we do?

As psychologists (and others) identified a while ago, there is a range of coping strategies. From the more unhealthy ones such as drinking, using drugs, and aggression and violence, to the moderately unhealthy ones such as eating, shopping, and entertainment, to the more helpful ones such as friendships, nature, movement, to the ones that may resolve it all such as inquiry and seeing through the beliefs of overwhelm and unbearable.

Among the latter, some may be helpful short term and some in the longer term. And we each have to find what works for us.

Here are some emergency measures that works for me:

Move. Go for a walk. Do self-Breema. Shake (TRE). Jump up and down in place.

Talk with a friend.

Conscious breathing. Place hands on belly and chest and notice the breath. Make outbreath longer than inbreath. Breathe into the sensation, allow the sensation and breath to merge.

Feel the sensations. Feel them as sensations. (Set the stories aside for a while, if I can.)

Use ho’oponopono. Say to myself (the scared part of me), I am sorry, please forgive me, I love you. Say this also to whatever triggered it. (A person, symptom, situation.)

Alternately amplify and drop the stressful stories. (10 sec. each, described by Joey Lott in some of his books).

Tapping. (EFT type tapping.)

Say to myself: I love you. I love you. I love you. / It’s OK to feel this.

Ask myself: Is it true this is overwhelming? Is it true it’s too much? It’s unbearable, is it true?

And some longer term strategies:

Inquire into how I relate to what’s been triggered.

Can I find the threat? The overwhelm? Intensity? Pain? (Living Inquiries.)

Is it true it’s unbearable? Too much? (The Work.)

Inquire into the triggers. (Perceived threats.)

Inquire into being triggered. (My stories about it, deficient identities, fears.)

I posted a question about this on a Facebook page for inquiry, and here are two answers I found especially helpful:

Venting to a best friend. Talking it out, focusing on how I feel versus the triggering event or person. Giving it that voice helps it wash through through a big honest cry.

Also, lately I’ve been using the words “I am willing to feel this” with whatever arises. Physical or emotional pain, lately it works for me most of the time. Another one: Put my hand on my heart and say “I love you” over and over again. or Put my hand on the area of my body that hurts/triggered and do the same thing. “I love you” “I’m sorry you’re feeling this” “I love you”. caress my face, caress my arms, like a pet… for a few minutes. tapping also. These are mine.

– Marina B.

An interesting question. As time has gone on, I’ve discovered that it’s possible to rest with even the most intense states/feelings. That’s been incredibly valuable, as I spent many years feeling that I couldn’t be with what I was feeling, and so using all the tools that we’ve described above, and more. They certainly have their place, and yet what has helped me the most is being with or resting or inquiring even in the direst of times. There’s something so profound about discovering we do have the capacity to bear it all, even when it feels unbearable

– Fiona R.

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